Emotions play a critical part in caring for your diabetes since anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, guilt, fear and shame may increase your immediate blood sugars and affect your overall glucose control. Patients may frequently experience these feelings since diabetes never takes a break and requires their constant attention. They often do not know how to incorporate these emotions into their relationships with their significant other, partner, spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. This can lead to deeper tension in the relationship which only escalates these negative emotions.
It is well documented that having diabetes comes with increased risks of depression and anxiety. When emotionally challenged patients may give up their routines – which are needed to maintain proper blood sugars – they may stop taking their medication, stop monitoring blood sugars or refuse to follow a healthy lifestyle program. This eventually can affect an important relationship.
Recently during our diabetes self management skills program, I taught a 26 year old female who has had type 2 for about four years. She admitted that she has been in numerous relationships over the last 2 years, yet she has never shared her diabetes diagnosis. After two months she would withdraw from the relationship and isolate herself for awhile since she was too afraid to share that she had a chronic disease at such a young age. She thought no one in a dating relationship could or would understand, or really care. She was finally in a relationship for over four months and felt emotionally connected to her boyfriend. They came to the visit together so he could learn about diabetes and be more supportive to her. She did not want him to be overwhelmed with information and thought a one on one visit with a medical professional could help him understand. Here are some of the tips I shared with them at the visit.
- Be open. This is a chronic illness that she lives with day to day and if someone is important to you, then sharing all aspects of your life is critical. Discuss your fears, your weaknesses, what makes you scared or angry about the condition. Answer questions that your partner asks to keep them in your loop. Be honest.
- Support groups. There should be several diabetes support groups for type 1, type 2, seniors and other specific groups in your area. You can check with local hospitals, your MDs office, or the ADA to seek one out on a national or local level. Look for one that will meet you and your partner’s needs. You may even need to start your own support group. From that group setting you may branch off into a partners-only support group. Hearing and sharing stories of daily support from others may be very helpful for some partners.
- Explain to your partner that “life is normal”. Many people do not know what someone with diabetes encounters from day to day. Everyone should be living a healthy lifestyle, which includes aerobic exercise, portion control, eating less processed foods – and they can easily share these excellent practices. Studies show that people who live together start to adopt similar behaviors from their partner; this could benefit everyone. Share your specifics including insulin injections, testing blood sugars, when and how to treat hypoglycemia. Review emergency issues before they happen. This will make everyone more comfortable, secure, and more connected.
- Stress Reduction. It is important for both of you to find techniques that reduce stress from day to day, and especially during a crisis. People may bring the stress of diabetes to the relationship without realizing it. Think about doing a hobby or taking a class together. Go to a gym or fitness class together. Go for walks together. Get massages together or seek counseling from a professional therapist if needed.
- Attend a diabetes self management class. Knowledge is power and when both people understand the nuisances of diabetes, it can remove a lot of tension. The other person can at least understand the basic requirements and discipline that diabetes demands. They can learn not to be your food police and encourage you to accomplish your daily goals.
- Compromise. A relationship should not center on the diabetes diagnosis, but it may need to be acknowledged. I treated an older man who became irritable at 11:30am – almost daily. His wife took this personally and did not understand it was his sign of hypoglycemia – time for lunch or a snack. After discussion, she now encourages him to carry glucose tablets and crackers when they are out. No more irritability and their relationship improved from this one change!
- Discuss finances. In a new solid relationship you may want to discuss the financial aspect of your diabetes care. Certain partners may be afraid of the life long added costs. Share what you know and how it may factor into the budget. This should not be a deal breaker if you have a good relationship.
- Journal. Sometimes it is easier to write down feelings and then share thoughts verbally. It can give you time to think things through without exploding. You may feel less guarded after reading it. Share and educate each other. Express gratitude when support is shown, and show appreciation to the other person. Always offer thanks.
- Give together. Decide to volunteer or donate to the diabetes cause. Get involved in Diabetes Alert Day or diabetes community runs. Be active together in programs that support diabetes events.
- Understand sexual health and diabetes. This is an important aspect to couples, especially if they do not understand that it is not personal. Sexual relations can be affected by diabetes for both men and women when blood sugars are out of control. When blood sugars are out of control, women may lose their desire or experience an increase of vaginal or urological infections – causing sex to be painful. Men may lose the ability to have or maintain erections if there is nerve involvement from diabetes. Seek medical support and use open discussion to address this issue.
Diabetes is only one aspect of your life; it does not define you. Keep the channels of communication open and fair and you should be able to support each other in this and every other part of your life. Good luck!
NOTE: Consult your Doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.